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Navigating Nassau: A Travel Guide

Updated: Jan 27

Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas, is known for several things. One of its most famous features is its crystal clear ocean waters, which make it a favorite destination for travelers. The beaches in Nassau, such as Cable Beach, are also popular attractions and offer various activities and amenities.

staircase leading to Nassau's Beautiful Beaches
Nassau's Beautiful Beaches

Nassau is also known for its cultural heritage and history. The city features local shops and markets along Bay Street, the main street in downtown Nassau, where visitors can explore and learn about the history of the area. There are also historical landmarks and sites in Nassau, such as Fort Charlotte and the Queen's Staircase, that provide glimpses into the city's past.

In addition to its natural beauty and historical sites, Nassau is famous for the swimming pigs at Pig Beach in the Exuma Cays archipelago. This unique attraction allows visitors to interact with these friendly animals and enjoy a memorable experience.

Nassau's History

Nassau has a rich and colorful history. The town that would become Nassau was founded in 1670 by British noblemen on the island of New Providence. They named it Charles Town in honor of England's King Charles II. Shortly after its founding, the town became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard and Calico Jack Rackham. However, in 1695, the town was rebuilt and renamed Nassau.

During the 18th century, Nassau gained prominence as a key center for the transatlantic slave trade. The city served as a hub for the slave ships arriving from Africa before they were dispersed to various parts of the New World. Pompey Square, a popular spot for tourists, was named after an enslaved man (Pompey) rose up and lead a revolution in 1830 to end slavery in the Bahamas.

Nassau played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War, serving as a base of operations for privateers who fought against British ships. Following this, the city continued to grow and develop as a major port and commercial center in the Caribbean region.

Nassau played a crucial role in the history of The Bahamas as well. It served as a center for trade and piracy during the colonial era. In the late 17th century, the city was rebuilt after being attacked and captured by the Spanish. To protect the city, the Old Fort of Nassau was built in 1697, although it was eventually demolished in 1897.

Landmarks of Nassau

The Queen's Staircased in Nassau, Bahamas
Queen's Staircase
  • The Queen's Staircase: This is a major Nassau landmark, built in the late 18th century. It consists of 66 steps carved out of solid limestone by previously enslaved workers to tie the island together.

  • Fort Fincastle: Overlooking the city from Bennet's Hill, Fort Fincastle was built in 1793 and offers a panoramic view of Nassau and the ocean beyond.

  • Parliament Square: This is a collection of historic buildings dating back to the early 19th century, including the Houses of Parliament, the old Colonial Secretary's Office, and the Supreme Court.

  • Fort Charlotte: The largest fort in Nassau, Fort Charlotte was built in the late 18th century and offers a glimpse into the island's colonial past.

  • The Nassau Public Library & Museum: This octagonal building was originally built as a jail and now houses historical books and colonial-era documents.

  • The Cloisters: These are the remnants of a 14th-century French monastery that was transported to Nassau stone by stone in the 1920s.

Food of Nassau

Nassau is renowned for its local cuisine that reflects its rich cultural history. Some of the popular foods you must try include:

  • Conch: This local shellfish is a staple in the Bahamian diet and can be served in a variety of ways - raw with lime juice, deep-fried as fritters, or in a savory soup or salad.

  • Bahamian Stew Fish: A hearty dish made from local catch, simmered in a broth with spices, celery, onions, tomatoes, and thyme.

  • Johnnycakes: A traditional Bahamian bread made from flour, milk, sugar, butter, and baked until golden brown. It is often served as a side dish with soups or stews.

  • Guava Duff: A dessert staple in The Bahamas, Guava Duff is a fluffy, folded pastry filled with guava and served with a sweet butter rum sauce.

How to Get Around

Getting around Nassau and the rest of The Bahamas is relatively easy and there are several options available:

  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available throughout Nassau and Paradise Island. They are a convenient, albeit more expensive, way to get around. Make sure to agree on a fare before starting your trip.

  • Public Bus: The public bus system, known as Jitneys, is an inexpensive way to get around. Buses operate from early morning until early evening.

  • Car Rental: Renting a car can be a good option if you plan to explore beyond the city. Remember, driving is on the left side of the road.

  • Walking: Nassau's city center is compact and most of the main attractions are within walking distance.

  • Bicycle Rental: Renting a bicycle can be a fun and healthy way to explore the city, especially if you're staying on Paradise Island.

  • Ferry: Ferries operate between Nassau and Paradise Island, offering beautiful views along the way.

Tourism in Nassau

Small Nassau Street filled with shops
Nassau's Street Shopping

Tourism is the lifeblood of Nassau, contributing significantly to the economy of The Bahamas. The city is a popular destination for travelers around the world, thanks to its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and vibrant history. Nassau boasts a variety of accommodations, from luxury resorts to charming local guesthouses.

The city offers a wealth of activities to suit all types of travelers. Visitors can explore the city's rich history by visiting its well-preserved forts and colonial buildings, or indulge in local food and drink, all while soaking up the Bahamian culture. For those interested in marine life, Nassau offers exciting opportunities for snorkeling and diving, with its abundant marine biodiversity.

Nassau's hospitality and warm, tropical climate make it a favorite destination for tourists throughout the year. The city also hosts several events and festivals, such as the annual Junkanoo parade, which celebrates Bahamian culture and attracts visitors from around the globe.

Things to do in Nassau

  • Visit Nassau's best landmarks: Consider exploring the Queen's Staircase, Fort Fincastle, Parliament Square, Fort Charlotte, the Nassau Public Library & Museum, and the Cloisters.

  • Try Local Cuisine: Don't miss out on trying conch, Bahamian Stew Fish, Johnnycakes, and Guava Duff while you're in Nassau.

  • Explore the city by bike or take a ferry ride for a different perspective.

  • Participate in Local Festivals: If you're visiting during the annual Junkanoo parade, make sure to join the celebrations.

  • Snorkeling and Diving: Take advantage of Nassau's clear waters and abundant marine biodiversity by snorkeling or diving.

Why Visit Nassau

People are drawn to Nassau for its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and vibrant history. The city offers a variety of activities, including exploring local food and drink, visiting well-preserved forts and colonial buildings, and snorkeling and diving to observe marine biodiversity. The city's hospitality and warm, tropical climate make it a favorite destination for tourists throughout the year. Additionally, Nassau hosts several events and festivals, such as the annual Junkanoo parade, which celebrates Bahamian culture and attracts visitors from around the globe.

Nassau Government

Nassau, being the capital of The Bahamas, has a stable political climate. The Bahamas is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, which means the city is administered by a Governor-General who is appointed by the monarch, and a Prime Minister who is the head of government. The city is also home to the Parliament of The Bahamas, and it's where the country's political decisions are made.

Music of Nassau

Music plays a significant role in the culture of Nassau and the Bahamas as a whole. The most popular genre is probably Junkanoo, a type of music that is integral to the annual Junkanoo festival. The festival, which occurs on Boxing Day and New Year's Day, features parades with elaborate costumes, dancing, and music.

Junkanoo music is characterized by its use of traditional African rhythms and instruments, including the goat-skin drum, cowbells, and whistles. The music is loud, rhythmic, and energetic, reflecting the festive spirit of the Junkanoo parades.

Another popular music genre in Nassau is rake n' scrape, which is typically played using an accordion, a saw, and goatskin drums. The genre has its roots in the musical traditions of enslaved Africans who were brought to the Bahamas.

There's also Bahamian calypso, which is similar to the calypso music of Trinidad and Tobago, but with a distinctively Bahamian twist. Bahamian calypso often features lyrics that comment on social and political issues.

In recent years, other genres like reggae, soca, and hip hop have also become popular in Nassau, reflecting the city's diverse and evolving music scene.

Now you can be a Nassau Guide!

Travelling to Nassau provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a vibrant mix of natural beauty, rich history, and diverse cultural experiences. Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, an outdoor enthusiast, or simply looking for a relaxing getaway, Nassau has something to offer. The city's clear waters, pristine beaches, and abundant marine biodiversity offer an incredible playground for water sports enthusiasts. Its well-preserved forts, colonial buildings, and local cuisine give a glimpse into the island's colorful past and cultural heritage. The warm hospitality of its people and the city's tropical climate make Nassau an inviting destination all year round. Lastly, the chance to participate in local festivals like the annual Junkanoo parade offers a unique cultural immersion experience. Use this Nassau guide to find your way around the island and the deep culture. Nassau is not just a travel destination; it's a unique adventure packed with unforgettable experiences.

Be sure to check out our Nassau inspired playlist which features Nassau Native artists. The signature style of Junkanoo, rake'n'scrape, and Bahamian calypso can all be found within this playlist!

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